Some mention has been made in this thread of how first-party packages should properly be referred to and what disclosures are necessary. Since this topic doesn't seem to have been addressed in any detail its own right, I would like to record my thoughts on the subject and raise it for further discussion.

Current policy would appear to be that, if one has written a package (or similar) not specifically for the purpose of answering a question on this site and wishes to use it in an answer, it is necessary to state quite explicitly that one is the author by making some kind of disclosure statement. Additionally, it is not considered acceptable if all of a user's answers are of this type.

My view, however, is that it doesn't matter if someone exclusively posts answers featuring their own work. Indeed, in a very real sense, all good answers should do so. Problems only arise if these answers become unreasonably repetitive and uninteresting, or if they are so tangentially relevant to the question as to strain credibility. I also think that including a disclosure statement into every single answer is not really necessary, especially if this information is already noted in one's profile, or if the package in question is freely available without the requirement for payment or registration of any kind. Disclosure statements, I would argue, are required only where a conflict of interest might otherwise be perceived.

As an example, it seems somewhat ridiculous to me that Szabolcs should feel obliged to disclaim his (co-)authorship in answers mentioning the MATLink package, since he and the other author wrote this package at least partly as a service to the community and have released it free of charge under the extremely liberal MIT licence. It is hence obvious that no tangible benefit accrues to them when a user uses this package, and therefore that no conflict of interest is possible. This is not to say that recording one's authorship doesn't constitute useful information, but merely that a disclaimer should not be necessary in this situation.

Perhaps the current policy is sensible simply to avoid any possibility of doubt regardless of the circumstances. However, I find it extremely incongruous when answers contain such disclaimers, as if having contributed to the library of third-party Mathematica packages is something to be ashamed of.

Please indicate your agreement or disagreement with my point of view by upvoting or downvoting this question as appropriate.

  • While it might seem like a silly idea, I think it is a necessary one because the idea of someone participating here solely to mention their products doesn't fit well with a lot of people. A lot of folks have raised flags here when users mention their products without disclosing affiliation (even when they've written several other good, non-producty answers), showing that people are sensitive to it. These things are pretty icky, and a search for "Ira Baxter" on Meta Stack Exchange (follow through the links on the posts you find) will show you how heated things can get and why this policy was implemented.
    – rm -rf Mod
    Jul 13, 2013 at 22:08
  • @rm-rf I understand why this policy might be useful from the moderators' perspective if many people object unless a disclaimer is included. I would hope that perhaps some of these people will write an answer explaining the motivation behind their objection. Unless it arises from an irrational fear of commerce, I can't understand it myself. Ira Baxter seems to have been guilty of giving repetitive, barely relevant answers more than mere self-promotion. Jul 13, 2013 at 22:14
  • It sounds mostly like you have a personal issue with the disclaimers. If I see "Disclaimer: I helped create this package", my initial feelings towards that person are in no way negative, and I can't say I feel like that person should be ashamed of his work. I would however like to know when people are commenting on using packages they helped create as it opens up the possibility for more in depth follow up questions. In short my feelings are: "If you made it and think it's relevant, then why hide you made it".
    – jVincent
    Jul 15, 2013 at 13:48
  • @jVincent no, what I have a problem with is people who complain unless they see a disclaimer, so that everyone feels obliged to include one lest they be downvoted. I would like to understand the reasoning behind this mentality. Note that what I refer to as a disclaimer is specifically not a mere statement of authorship, which can equally well be written in one's profile. A disclaimer is used to disclaim a potential conflict of interest, whereas in most cases, no such conflict exists except perhaps in certain people's minds. Jul 15, 2013 at 14:26
  • There certainly is a conflict of interest... perhaps not always a monetary or any other tangible benefit, but it's one that falls into the category of "Every mom thinks her child is the best/prettiest/cutest/etc". If you're recommending your own goods, it's prudent to let others know of it so that they can take your answer with how many ever pinches of salt they want.
    – rm -rf Mod
    Jul 15, 2013 at 15:21
  • @rm-rf a conflict of interest occurs when someone gives a marginal or inappropriate answer as an excuse to plug their work, not when they give a helpful and directly relevant reply that merely mentions a package of theirs. What if someone refers to a package they wrote and credited to their real name while wishing to remain anonymous from SE's point of view? Should people also have to issue a disclaimer if the author of a package is their colleague or friend? I don't think so. Let's be realistic about what our interests as SE users are. IMO, moaning about someone trying to make money isn't it. Jul 15, 2013 at 15:56
  • And what about when a directly relevant reply is provided to their package which is of marginal quality (while ignoring other ways/packages to achieve the same)? The list of possibilities is endless... You're needlessly trying to distinguish between helpful/marginal/open source liberal license/etc, when the present simple rule of mandatory disclosure for all is non-discriminatory and non-intrusive. I personally don't care for a bold/italic/banner disclaimer. A footnote or even the use of "my" or "my company" or "my package", etc. in the answer is sufficient IMO.
    – rm -rf Mod
    Jul 15, 2013 at 16:17
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    @rm-rf I am not trying to draw any fine distinctions. My point is that since there is no conflict of interest in the vast majority of cases that are not outright and obviously abusive, the requirement for mandatory disclosure is overblown and leads to ridiculously onerous requirements if we actually want to take it seriously as a disclaimer. If, on the other hand, the real reason we have it is just that some people will complain otherwise, then I would like to understand the motivation underlying these complaints. I agree with you about the nature of the disclosure statement if one is made. Jul 15, 2013 at 16:40
  • @OleksandrR. I think we have to look at a deeper reason for this issue to even exist. And the reason I think is that, while we have by now formed (with the help of SE infrststructure) a reasonably coherent and powerful user community, we have not yet formed an (open source or not only) development community. But, even if we eventually form one, it will need to have a different infrastructure, within which it will be easy to estimate the quality of packages and other offered solutions, just like it is easy now to estimate the quality of questions and answers here on SE. Jul 15, 2013 at 22:35
  • @OleksandrR. The SE requirement of mandatory disclosure of being an owner / developer for a given product used in the answer is just the statement like "SE can not take responsibility for the quality of this part of the answer, because SE lacks the infrastructure to make such quality estimation robust". So, from this perspective, this is just a system's statement of its own limitations. The problem is that such a thing is very hard to formalize on the level of the system, so it is imposed on us, as a rule to obey. Indirectly, this again shows the limitation of an SE model. So, the radical... Jul 15, 2013 at 22:39
  • @OleksandrR. ... answer here would be that we'd need a next generation Q/A site that would incorporate both Q/A and the development community (once it emerges). May be one day we will have this, since SE is certainly not the final word here. In other words, I agree with you that this is an annoying issue, but I also see why SE demands this, if we look at it from SE's perspective - they want to be clear in what they do (to do it well), and what that don't (because they can't do it well). In this sense, I agree with rm-rf. We just hit the SE model's limitation (one of many). Jul 15, 2013 at 22:43
  • @LeonidShifrin thanks for your interesting perspective. I hadn't considered it like this, but indeed it is much easier to understand then why the requirement exists (and, in particular, why it would be that disclaimers aren't also needed about e.g. fitness for purpose of the answers, because this is already covered by section 5 of the CC-BY-SA licence for material posted directly on this site). I hope that one day there will be a more robust way to address this problem, but I admit I find it difficult to imagine how that might look. Jul 16, 2013 at 4:29
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    @jVincent even if full disclosure is provided along with a disclaimer. My point in this thread is that commercial packages are not fundamentally different from non-commercial ones, and yet it is the former that tend to attract complaints and downvotes much more than the latter. My impression is that the disclosure requirement was introduced mainly because of these complaints, but if commercial package authors are damned if they do and damned if they don't, this creates a toxic environment for those people even if their contributions are otherwise as good as anyone else's. So, I am ... Jul 16, 2013 at 10:17
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    @OleksandrR. "actual grounds for the complaints and general rudeness" A complaint is different from a comment pointing out the lack of required information. And secondly, there is no excuse for rudeness, however it feels like you interpret the very request for a disclosure as rude which need definitely not be the case. "whether it works" The rule works in the sense that it makes the relevant information available. I don't feel the rules need be based on any arguments of fighting monetization or promotion, both of these are perfectly doable while disclosing your ties.
    – jVincent
    Jul 16, 2013 at 10:33
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    @OleksandrR. Also I'd like to add that perhaps the reason commercial packages attract downvotes have less to do with the rules regarding disclosure, and more to do with the fact that they are displaying solutions that are no immediately useful to the reader unless he already owns the package or wishes to purchase it. I for one absolutely and passionately hate people who will answer a question of "how to do X on Linux" with "Buy windows", or similar.
    – jVincent
    Jul 16, 2013 at 10:35


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